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On Convergence

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The landscape and array of hardware available to us is becoming mind boggling. What used to be a handful of distinct computing options – namely: phone, tablet/slate, laptop, desktop – is now a confusing mess of interbred hardware formfactors. The growth of Android encouraged a lot of this experimentation, and the introduction of Windows 8 forced manufacturers of all types of consumer computing to re-evaluate and explore new options. These options are all pretty exciting, even if some of them are a little … strange.

I'm currently sitting on a plane to a family trip. My bag contains about 8 pounds worth of hardware along these formfactors, though some of that is through accidental overpacking. I've been looking for ways to solve this problem without sacrificing my productivity, for quite a while. Carrying this much tech is unnecessary and it makes travel, even locally on transit, a literal pain in the neck. Some people are able to rock iPads with bluetooth keyboards and get their dayjobs done. I've had issues with this workflow as a developer; it's worked to some extent when I was on an OS with decent multitasking, but it left me wanting – no easy way to debug web sites in-browser was the biggest show-stopper, there were some other things though.

When it comes to bluetooth keyboards, you're limited to two options: a standalone keyboard, or a specialized case with a bluetooth keyboard sewn/stored inside of the case. Both of these options kind of suck. The integrated case/keyboards all have shitty keyboards, as far as I've used. The external keyboards also necessitate that you carry a stand for your device or have a case which supports one, thus defeating the purpose of an external keyboard.

So we're left looking at these weird hybrid devices.

Don't get me wrong, I love my Thinkpad, but when I'm travelling I don't need the horsepower it provides me, and I definitely don't need the weight that it tacks on; add a power cable, and I have to get a bag that's big enough, and I end up filling that with various shit, and I'm suddenly carrying 12 pounds on my shoulders and that is kind of sucky, especially when I'm sleep deprived and grouchy. The Thinkpad also has a handful of other issues, as I use the device more:

My next computing device is going to be the next iteration of the Asus Transform Pad Infinity, complete with the keyboard dock. Simplify, simplify, simplify. For 500$ you can get a quad core tegra, 10" IPS screen with incredible resolutoin, and 14 fucking hours of battery life. That's madness. My father's next computing device is almost assuredly going to be the same device, which makes my life much easier, too.

With this, we could conceivably carry around a single productivity device (not including a mobile, since I think we're all in agreement that taken phone calls on a tablet is the most hilariously bad silly thing ever, next to taking iPad selfies). Sell the 10" tablet I use for fucking around on the couch. Sell the 7" thrift store tablet I use for reading because the 10" kills my wrists. Turn the x230 in to a server in my living room by plugging it in to the ethernet and telling systemd not to autostart an X session. The powerhouse laptop that I am using right now isn't going to go anywhere, I'll still be doing my development on it using SSH through the Pad, though I am less reliant on it lasting years and years like I am if it was my primary travel device. When I need access to something that doesn't run over SSH or on Android/Plasma Active, I can open up the screen and start an X session. To that end, maybe the laptop lives at the offce, instead of at home.

This also opens up a chance to push forward on the development of Plasma Active; imagine a device with those specs above running Plasma Active, and automatically falling back to plasma-netbook or plasma-desktop when plugged in to the keyboard dock. I'm not a huge fan of the idea of using Android as a full-time OS, so I'll definitely be looking at Active on this device when I get it – too damn spoiled by Activities and Nepomuk :)

Projects like the Ubuntu Edge phone are only going to push this envelope further in this whole convergence scramble. I have reservations on Ubuntu's implementation, the whole single UI across device paradigms thing has never worked and is why Plasma Active exists in the first place. It's nice that they understand that device convergence is the way things are going though, and I wish them the best on it, even if it's just so that I can have a nice phone to install Plasma Active on some day :P

This stuff isn't new though. We had that weird motorola phone laptop foleo thing, which never fully took off because the Atrix was just another fucking android phone. Shit, we almost had the Foleo, which I still believe was just years ahead of its time while the rest of Palm was years behind. A future where a universal "dock" system could sync up with your phone using a unified widi-usb protocol is an exciting future.

This all sounds like Nerd Privilege bullshit, at the end of the day, I suppose. *Boohooboo, my 1500$ piece of technology hurts my back and it can't last an entire day of me hurtling through the sky at 600mph.* But I do truly believe that as technologists we're responsible for building a computing environment comfortable for anyone while sacrificing the productivity of none of them. That means building futures like this where we don't need a desktop for work, a tablet for home and a media center PC. That future sucks and encourages people to take the easy way out and give their data residence in some one else's server which could disappear tomorrow or zomgtehnsa'd.

Anyways, it's time go, there's still an hour left in this flight and my laptop battery is dead.

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Ryan Rix is a privacy rights advocate and net-art wannabe. Reach them on the Fediverse as @rrix@cybre.space, twitter as @rrrrrrrix, via email to ryan@whatthefuck.computer or on Facebook or on Matrix as @rrix:whatthefuck.computer.